Blame it on Nancy Drew. When Kathryn Lindskoog was in the fourth grade, her family lived in an Oklahoma town where, since there was no library and not much of anything else, books were at a premium.
Whenever one of her friends lucked onto a Drew mystery, it would make the rounds. When Lindskoog's turn came, "I was just wild over them," she recalls. "I wished I could be Nancy Drew, and if I couldn't, I wished I could be Carolyn Keene, the--I assumed--beautiful woman who wrote the Nancy Drew stories."
Decades later, Lindskoog learned that she'd been had. The prized books about the teen-age detective weren't written by Keene, who didn't exist, but by a man who headed a business syndicate based around the scores of adolescent adventures he'd cranked out under a number of fictitious names.
The nagging notion that things are often not as they seem has turned out to be a recurring theme in Lindskoog's life and work. In her youth she spent hours at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, tapping on wall panels looking for hidden Spanish treasure. As an adult, she says, she's developed a not always enjoyable knack for uncovering frauds and hoaxes.
Her latest book, "Fakes, Frauds and Other Malarkey" (HarperCollins, $12.99), is a lighthearted study of hoaxes and frauds. It runs the gamut: from the great European art forgers to old-time moms serving cotton biscuits on April Fools' Day to Clifford Irving's forged Howard Hughes biography to Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle's possible involvement in the Piltdown Man hoax.
Lindskoog's detective work came into play in her 1988 "The C.S. Lewis Hoax." Her literary sleuthing led her to believe that several of the posthumously released works by the beloved British writer were not penned by him at all, and that other of his writings are at least "contaminated" by inauthentic additions and revisions.
Her claims kicked off something of an international furor among Lewis scholars and aficionados. The book has been dismissed by some Lewis experts and derided by others but also has attracted supporters. A petition asking that her assertions be addressed by Lewis' estate has been signed by some 80 literary, scholarly and religious figures, including past U.S. Poet Laureate Richard Wilbur and authors Arthur C. Clarke and Madeleine L'Engle.
Lindskoog has several other books to her name, including two somewhat more pacific Lewis studies. She recently edited a series of abridged children's classics, performing what she calls "literary liposuction" on Twain, Defoe and others. She's spent much of her life as a teacher on local college campuses. She most recently taught at Rancho Santiago College in Santa Ana but had to give it up as her multiple sclerosis progressed.
Now she navigates an electric cart about the book-lined house she and husband John share.
The fact that most of Lindskoog's body is useless to her isn't acknowledged by her face, a vital thing with flashing eyes and a radiant smile. She first started showing signs of her disease 30 years ago, and her love of travel and contact with people is now relegated to the world of paper and ink.
She claims that the world doesn't want for interest or intrigue. Along with her continuing Lewis studies, which she details in a quarterly newsletter, she says she's recently discovered that parts of "Huckleberry Finn" were copied from a book by Scottish author George MacDonald.
Lindskoog, 58, says she became attuned to deceit as a matter of necessity in the '50s, when she discovered her college roommate was a chronic liar.
The roommate often bragged about her fiance, whom no one ever saw, and shared love letters from him, which Lindskoog came to realize were fabricated by the girl.
Among other telltale signs, Lindskoog couldn't help noticing that her roommate seemed even to get the letters on holidays when the post office was closed.
"It became very threatening to my college career rooming with a person who was absolutely nuts. When she'd tell me that a class was canceled or exams had been changed to another day, I had to scramble to figure out what was really going on," she said.
Lindskoog had been introduced to the writings of Lewis by her husband when the couple were still courting. Both were strapped for finances, so, as a manner of gift, one night he brought her a library copy of "Mere Christianity," which she finished that evening, entranced. She devoured Lewis' many other works--from children's fantasies to Christian apologetics--and wound up doing her masters thesis on him.
What Lindskoog loved, she said, was "the clarity, the integrity and the delight of his writing. It was the most congenial mind in the world to me, and laced with humor, always." She had met Lewis during a summer scholarship trip to England in 1956. When she sent him her thesis the following year, he wrote back that she understood his work better than anyone else he'd read, and Lewis wasn't known to lavish such praise freely.
After the author's death in 1963, Lindskoog maintained a long correspondence with Walter Hooper, the young American acquaintance of Lewis' who had been picked to manage his literary estate. Hooper even authored the introduction to one of her books on Lewis.
And it is Hooper she has since come to regard as the perpetrator of a huge hoax on Lewis' readers.
Her book and the many evidences and rebuttals that have come in its wake make for a huge can of worms in which one could squish around for weeks. For the basics, Lindskoog's book claims that Hooper has greatly misrepresented how long and how well he knew Lewis; that his dramatic tale of rescuing Lewis' manuscripts from a bonfire has been refuted by witnesses and is also circumstantially suspect; that certain of the posthumously issued "bonfire" writings, notably the fragmentary novel "The Dark Tower," are fabrications, and that Hooper has at times distorted particulars of Lewis' life and works.
Given the way the Lewis community has responded to her book, one would think that Lindskoog had been guilty of letting flies into heaven. The book raises questions that would be ugly in any circumstances, but these cast a shadow on the legacy of an author whose books--the most popular of any Christian author of this century, selling 1.5 million copies a year--are cherished for their spirituality and rigorous regard for truth.
Whether Lindskoog's claims are valid, some Lewis followers resent that they have been raised at all.
At times the exchanges seem less like a scholarly debate than a playground brawl. In his 1990 biography of Lewis, noted British author A.N. Wilson described "The C.S. Lewis Hoax" as "one of the most vitriolic personal attacks on a fellow-scholar, Walter Hooper, that I have ever read in print." He goes on to portray Lindskoog as a nut case whom he quotes as regarding herself to be "mentally married" to Lewis, a statement she denies making. She, in turn, says Wilson's scholarship is "absolutely undependable."
Wilson's book holds one concession, stating: "Hooper does, as Lindskoog asserts, like people to believe that he knew Lewis much better and much longer than was really the case."
Hooper has fostered the impression that he had worked with Lewis for years. He has added some 230 introductory pages to Lewis books, often peppered with warm anecdotes of their time together. He has recounted overhearing the childless Lewis tell his housekeeper that he, Hooper, was "the son I should have had." (Lindskoog says the housekeeper has told her that that conversation never took place).
Lewis experts have generally accepted that Hooper misspoke himself at times, but many feel that his decades of effort on behalf of Lewis' memory place him above reproach.
"For me that proves maybe that he was vain . It doesn't necessarily mean that he went on and did all this hoaxing," says Jim Prophero of San Juan Capistrano, editor of the Lamppost, the journal of the Southern California C.S. Lewis Society. "Why would Hooper want to do that? There's so much true material he's sitting atop that it would be like offering ice cream to an Eskimo, and he'd have everything to lose by it."
Hooper has avoided involvement in the fray. According to his friend M.J. Logsdon, who publishes the Salinas Valley C.S. Lewis Newsletter, Hooper won't respond to Lindskoog's charges because they are considered beneath the dignity of the Lewis estate. (A call to Hooper in Oxford confirmed this. Other than saying the charges are untrue, he declined to discuss them.)
Logsdon does routinely respond though, and his newsletter is in large part filled by heated exchanges with Lindskoog.
Logsdon says: "We've had on ongoing debate, and I think she's totally off-base in her allegations of forgery. I think much of it is just Walter-bashing. We take some pretty good shots at each other, but it's all in fun. I would definitely say we're friendly adversaries."
Lindskoog, in turn, appreciates Logsdon's willingness to debate her. Most other publications ignore her. She says it's because they regard her as an anathema. Prophero says it's more likely that the journals don't want to get mired in endless argument.
Both sides have trotted out experts--with computerized writing analysis and the like--with proofs of their arguments, and both sides have questioned the credentials and impartiality of those experts. No one, including Lindskoog, has any great hopes of the questions being resolved in this lifetime.
But she goes on researching, firing off letters into the journalistic void and publishing her own newsletter, the Lewis Legacy.
As comic relief, and perhaps a bit of perspective, she began including tales of other hoaxes in her newsletter. After she'd done around 10 she recognized that they'd make a good book, and she created "Fakes, Frauds and Other Malarkey." The volume features a slyly winking Mona Lisa on the cover.
Immersing one's self in the world's greatest fibs might tend to make one a bit cynical, but Lindskoog says she's on guard against that.
"Martin Luther said that humanity is like a drunk man on a horse. First he falls off on one side, then he climbs back up and falls off the other side. It seems to me that people inevitably are going to be gullible. Being tricked is part of being human. As far as I know we only live once, and the first time through we make a lot of mistakes.
"But to me it seems more destructive to the spirit to be bitter and cynical. What I think people need is to make the effort to stay upright on the horse, accept the fact that you're going to be conned once in a while and not be so uptight about it," she said .
Logsdon suggested she doesn't take her own advice when it comes to her Lewis hoax allegations. "Some speak the truth and then let the truth speak for itself. She doesn't let it go," he said.
"Why in the world would I drop it?" she responds. "I have this huge head of steam because I've worked so much on it. There is a continuing deception and fraudulence, so I continue asking questions that are not answered.
"In Nancy Drew the truth always came out, right? It was solved, and then the police, the court or whoever set it right. I've gradually found out that real life doesn't work like in the kids' stories."